A Latino man and boy hold a flag together in "In the Heights."

From Stage to Screen, ‘In the Heights’ Is Just What the Latino Community Needs

It’s okay if you missed the play on Broadway — it’s headed for the silver screen next summer.
August 25, 2020
7 mins read

COVID-19 may have been the summer mosquito you can’t escape, ruining the entire season, but at least there’s hope for next year. While several anticipated films have been postponed, or released on streaming apps instead of in theaters, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “In the Heights” is set to premiere on the big screen on June 18, 2021.

So, cheers to next summer and all the music and dance it will bring. If all goes as planned, we won’t have to look at the same TikTok dances on our phones. Instead, we can refresh our eyes with something new. (Of course, if you’ve spent your quarantine on TikTok, maybe new dance moves and new music is nothing new for you at all.)

YouTube player

The importance of turning a Broadway production like “In the Heights” into a big-screen film cannot be understated. It is so important and beneficial to the agenda of wider representation in Hollywood. Yes, Hollywood has tried to be more inclusive to people of color (POC), but Latinos still get the short end of the stick as they are underrepresented in front of and behind the camera.

According to a 2019 Forbes article, “Latino actors barely landed 4.5% of 47,268 speaking roles in the 100 top-grossing U.S. movies from each of the past 12 years and only 3% were leads or co-leads.” The information was obtained “from the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, which analyzed 1,200 films from 2007 to 2018.”

Hollywood is filled with recycled ideas. It’s almost like they have a recycling bin filled with old bottles, and inside each bottle is a recycled film idea. Stereotypes just so happen to be in those bottles.

“Among the findings across 200 films from 2017 to 2018,” the article continued, “24% of all of Latino speaking characters were depicted as criminals (mostly gang members or drug dealers).”

“In the Heights” portrays Latinos differently. They shed the stereotype of violence and criminality, and depict a more upbeat, positive portrayal of the community.

The Broadway version of “In the Heights” cast Latino actors and provided positive representation of POC on Broadway, but based on the trailer, it appears the movie will do so much more. For instance, people will be able to see the movie for probably $10, while the average Broadway ticket starts at around $100. The film will provide quicker gratification since movie theaters are easily accessible for those who can’t afford Broadway tickets.

The film will also allow you to see an authentic version of Washington Heights because, although they try, a Broadway stage can’t replicate the authenticity of real neighborhoods.

And the audience will get to experience and see facial expressions that you can’t always distinguish from Section 100, Row G.

As “In the Heights” is a story about a community, the film version is welcoming to all communities to partake and experience it.

Kristine Jimmerson, a fan of musical theater, is eager to witness the Broadway play come to life. She says that seeing POC get their story told on Broadway felt inspiring. “All the music, the great actors and the storyline seem to be made for slumber parties to come.”

Jimmerson also believes that the film will help with representation. “I have surely seen it within the Black community in recent years, so it seems to be the right direction.”

After watching the trailer for “In the Heights,” she reflected on the decades of misrepresentation of many minority communities. “I believe it is important for the Latin community because, just like everyone else in the world, who doesn’t want their story told? The truths and complexities experienced daily within the multiple communities is also something that is usually underrepresented, yet I can see it even in the movie trailer for this upcoming film.”

So if you too are a fan of Broadway or Lin-Manuel Miranda, you’re probably counting down the days for the movie version. And if you’ve never heard of “In the Heights” but you’re down to support the Latino community, you’re in for a treat because the story is nothing short of greatness.

It takes place over the course of three days as we follow the characters living in New York City — Washington Heights, to be exact. The storyline mainly follows Latino characters as the neighborhood is predominantly a Latino community.

The heart and sound of the film is hip-hop, which is Miranda’s specialty (as you can see in his most famous musical, “Hamilton”). “In the Heights” also highlights the salsa, merengue and soul music that is popular with the culture.

While the music in all musicals is important for progressing the storyline, the music of “In the Heights” is exceptionally important. By using sounds that are embedded in real life Latino cultures, the music is used to help characters form their identities; it creates purpose.

The music in the film is used to convey the feeling of hope. Many of the characters in the film are faced with adversity and rely on their family ties to get through. Miranda chose these themes to address the pressures that individuals in minority communities face. By doing this, he introduces several characters with varying occupations.

The musical also touches on the limited job opportunities for minority groups, but even with the lack of resources, these characters manage to find a way. They find hope through music, culture and dance.

The theme blankets the trailer, released in 2019, and is heard as the song “In The Heights” fades in. Usnavi (Anthony Ramos) sings, “‘Cause my parents came from nothing. They got a little more. And sure, we’re poor, but yo, at least we have got the store. And it’s all about the legacy they left with me”; and then he goes on to sing: “Until the day we go from poverty to stock options. In the heights, I’ve got today.”

The trailer definitely shows the world that the community is not invisible. If we’re judging based on the trailer, the soundtrack, and the acting roles it’s making available to the Latino community, the movie is already a 10 out of 10. You can feel the soul and the desire to live and be heard ooze from the screen.

And while their neighborhood may not always be seen for the greatness that it is, their music will tell the story. The streets, corner stores and colorful chalk on the sidewalk will come to life and illuminate the beauty of the community.

Yasmeen Ludy, University of Michigan

Writer Profile

Yasmeen Ludy

University of Michigan
Communications and Media Studies

I am a passionate journalist and storyteller. I love anchoring three WOLV TV shows, ​Candid Conversations, NewsFeed, and EBuzz​. I have also written for the Michigan Daily and interned for WDIV Channel Local 4.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Don't Miss